Being aware

One of the efforts of those involved in the Occupy movement is to move accounts from “Wall Street banks” to locally owned credit unions as a way of demonstrating frustration with large banks.

While the press indicates these moves have been going on for some time, the big day of those transfers was supposed to be last Saturday, November 5th.

During my travels on Saturday morning, I drove past 3 different credit unions in 2 different towns.

On a day when they might get more than a usual level of attention and new accounts, all 3 were closed.

While it’s possible that it wouldn’t have amounted to anything in a rural area where I live, no signage appeared indicating that clients from other institutions are welcome, or how another bank’s customer might compare the credit union’s services to their current bank. This could have been done without showing support or disdain for Occupy and regardless of the bank management’s position on it.

It makes me wonder if they’re paying attention.

Just a thought…that extends well beyond banking. Be aware of what’s in the news that might be front and center in the minds of your customers *and* prospects.

Little things you don’t have to do

I had to stop in at Wells Fargo over lunch.

Among other things, I cashed a check. They require that you give them your driver’s license or other photo ID so that they have some vague idea that you are who you are.

When I got my receipt, license etc back, instead of the normal “Have a nice weekend” or something else that makes you think they say the same thing to everyone, I got a far more personal farewell.

Have a nice weekend – and enjoy your birthday next week.

Now how hard was that? Didn’t cost a thing.

Is your staff paying attention to the little details?

Matt wasn’t writing about starting a bank.

Beware of the Cow
Creative Commons License photo credit: tm-tm

Earlier this week, Matt Mullenweg (whose software runs this blog) wrote a post about starting a bank.

BUT…it really wasn’t about starting a bank. Not if you look under the covers just a bit.

It was really about how to look at your market and stand out because you don’t do all of the stupid, annoying things that everyone else in your market thinks is OK.

And it was really about standing out in your market because you do all the things that other people are afraid to do, too lazy to do, too stupid to do (and so on).

You know, because it’s always been done that other way. The same way everyone else does it. Cuz that’s just how our industry does it.

Read the first 10-15 comments on that post. Look how many people resonate the thoughts about banks that do this and that and so on. EVERYONE knows those things. Matt didn’t invent them. He *did* have the nerve to suggest the he would do things differently.

What are you willing to do differently? Start by sacrificing your industry’s sacred cow.

FACTA: Red Flags and Milk Bones

Restless Nights
Creative Commons License photo credit: il Quoquo

Despite the fact that Blondie (our golden retriever/ husky mix) gets credit card applications in the mail, identity theft is really not something that keeps her awake.

For that matter, little does.

When we go to Wells Fargo together, they never ask for her ID.

Maybe the sad Golden Retriever eyes are what the ladies at the drive-up can’t resist. All I know for sure is that on the way home, the old girl (Blondie, that is) filets out in the backseat in Milk Bone heaven.

For us bipeds, life is a bit more demanding. We’re asked for IDs frequently, yet sometimes we aren’t asked even though we’re supposed to be.

Why, whatever do you mean?

The last time I read an American Express merchant agreement, it said something about verifying the cardholder’s identity by checking their driver’s license or similar government-issued ID.

For whatever reason, I can count on one hand the number of times that happened since 1983.

I kind of understand the thought process here. Businesses likely see that as an opportunity to offend their clientele and customers might be annoyed. Still, that’s simple enough to defuse by saying something like “I apologize Ma’am, we just want to be sure that someone else isn’t using your card”. But it doesn’t happen.

Meanwhile, identify theft increases and as you would expect, lawmakers in Washington, in the state house and eventually, in the financial industry respond with ways to combat the problem.

For example, the credit card industry has PA-DSS (and a few things they worked up prior to that).

That’s a FACTA

For everything else, there’s Mastercard. Er, I mean FACTA – the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003.

You may hear it referred to as “The FTC Red Flags Rule” or just “Red Flags”.

For banks, it’s old news. They’ve been dealing with it since 2003.

Just yesterday, one of my banks called and asked me to drop in sometime so they could scan my new driver’s license (it was new last October). The scan they have shows an expired date. Apparently regs require that the ID they have on file is current. At least they are paying attention (good news).

My presumption is that a scan of your ID allows the bank to compare the scan vs. the one that tall, good-looking guy gave to the teller before attempting to empty your savings account. I don’t know if they actually do that or not.

Are you a financial institution?

You’re probably wondering how all of this impacts the small business owner. For starters, it might just make you into a financial institution.

FACTA applies to any business that provides goods and services to consumers and bills them later (mostly).

Implementation for small businesses keeps getting delayed, for what are probably obvious reasons, but they say they’re serious that the November 1, 2009 deadline is the real deal.

Definitions are funny things. Like standards, they are subject to interpretation. I don’t look upon myself as a financial institution or a creditor, but someone else just might and the same goes for you.

Here’s a quote from the FTC.gov Red Flag Rule page:

The Rule applies to ‘financial institutions’ and ‘creditors.’ It’s important to look closely at how the Rule defines those terms because (emphasis mine) they apply to groups that might not typically use those words to describe themselves.

(snip)

Under the Rule, the definition of ‘creditor’ is broad, and includes businesses or organizations that regularly provide goods or services first and allow customers to pay later.

Examples of groups that may fall within this definition are utilities, health care providers, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals, and telecommunications companies.

The definition also covers businesses or organizations that regularly grant loans, arrange for loans or the extension of credit, or make credit decisions.

Examples include finance companies, mortgage brokers, and automobile dealers or retailers that offer financing or collect or process credit applications for third party lenders. In addition, the definition includes anyone who regularly participates in the decision to extend, renew, or continue credit, including setting the terms of credit.

Because of this, I cant suggest strongly enough that you read the FTC Red Flag Rule documents (link at end of post).

Here’s another one from the Red Flags FAQ – it’s the one that gets me:

The Red Flags Rule applies to businesses that regularly defer payment until after services have been performed.

I don’t defer all of it, and I don’t do it for all clients, but it doesn’t matter because I do it in some cases for some amounts.

I wonder how many businesses that accounts for?

No Quarter for Cities & Community Orgs

Community benefit organizations (also known by the misnomer of “non-profits”) are also subject the Red Flags Rule if their business processes and billing situations fit the profile.

Even the city where you live is considered a creditor by this Red Flags Rule if they (for example) bill you after the fact for the amount of water and sewer your house or business used last month.

If they charged a flat fee for water/sewer, even if it is after you’ve used it, the city wouldn’t be a FACTA creditor. Ahhhh, those little details.

Credit cards and retainers

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to apply to businesses who take a credit card number and charge it monthly until your balance is paid off (PA-DSS deals with that – we need to talk about that little gem as well).

Likewise, FACTA doesn’t impact businesses who collect a retainer and then credit future services against that retainer. You knew they’d exempt attorneys *somehow*, right?

While this all of this isn’t the end of the world, it will require some process refinement and it might even change how you bill your clients.

You can learn more at http://www.ftc.gov/redflagsrule

Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/BoatAnchorBadSharingGood.mp3]
time
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.

Insane.

I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

Anoop voted off American Idol. Economy recovers. News at 11.


Creative Commons License photo credit: boyghost

Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF, a conglomeration of old money guys from 185 countries) indicated that they don’t see the global economy recovering until 2010.

Meanwhile, Anoop was voted off of American Idol. Wow, I had a hard time getting to sleep after hearing about that:)

The Economy doesn’t have to be Your Economy

“The economy” or “The global economy” may have an impact on your business but it is not YOUR economy.

Don’t let all the doom and gloom junk on CNN and elsewhere cloud your thinking. Sure, some businesses and plenty of people are struggling. Business-wise, look closely at the reasons why.

Look under the covers at the businesses that are having trouble. In large part, a lot of them are businesses that haven’t shown any consideration for their customers in decades, or they stuck in outdated business models for far too long, or that they did things just because everyone else was doing them (over-building, over-extended, subprime lending, obvious stuff).

Examples: GM says they won’t make their debt payment and bankruptcy is likely. New York Times stock said to be worthless.

Are they unrecoverable? Depends. If they continue to try the same things that got them where they are today, maybe not.

Meanwhile, there are shining spots in the business news…

So who is right? The IMF or Apple, Wells Fargo and some local businesses?

It doesn’t matter which of them is right. What’s right for you is what matters.

Care as much about it as they do

Earlier this week a client remarked to me that I work as if I care as much about their business as they do.

Isn’t that how all your clients should feel?

Did anyone ever feel that way about GM or the New York Times?

You get what you focus on. Focus on doing more, better for your clients and you’ll get more, better clients.

Pity the fool who doesn’t communicate

Over the last week or so, I’ve hunkered down in the perfect storm of communications.

Bresnan

I get a card in the mail asking me if the recent visit by a Bresnan Cable tech took care of the problem and if I was happy with the service. It’s the same guy who always comes to work on my cable issues. Treats you like a relative, even if he does sometimes have to come back more than once now and then. I wonder if they intentionally send the same guy. Smart if done on purpose (assuming the guy isn’t a bozo<g>).

Usually when I see him more than once in a week – it’s because cable boxes in general are just poorly made hardware commodities that fixing one thing exposes another thing (but later, of course<g>). But…that isn’t his fault.

Movie Gallery

During Thanksgiving week, my kids went up to Movie Gallery to pick up a DVD. My account was in lockdown. That was their terminology for it – ushers up nice images of Shawshank, doesn’t it?

Lockdown apparently occurs when you don’t return a movie for 3 weeks, I guess.

So my kids use their own account instead of mine and I later go up there – after finding the movie – to ask what the deal is. Turns out I’ve had the movie for 26 days (yes, it was a 3 day rental<g>).

Ok, my bad. However, I wondered where the reminder postcard was. Where’s the phone call asking where the heck I put the video?

NOT ONE WORD.

I’d had the movie for a month – without a single call, email, postcard, carrier pigeon, etc.

Folks, as we talked in role reversal last week – look at things from your customer’s point of view. Late fees are not good. Why else would people agree to wait for movies by mail?

Before I left, I asked the clerk what the deal is with no notifications. They don’t mail anymore. Costs too much (what she was told – vs “Earns too much in late fees”?).

I ask why I wasn’t called. For years, they’ve been good about calling, even if it is after the movie is late.

Why don’t they send text messages 2-3-4 hours before they close in order to remind people about the almost-late movie that’s . Seems obvious that they want them to be late. “Late” might be legit / intentional, so why not let it slide.

Because it isn’t in the best interest of the CUSTOMER. “Pity the fools”, as Mr. T would say.

Her reply regarding the calls. “We can’t make the calls anymore. Corporate does that now, they have some kind of automated system…. but some people never get called. It doesn’t work too well.”

Repeat after me…Business is Personal. Think like the customer.

Wells Fargo

We’ll close with a little bit of good news.

I use Wells Fargo for a bunch of stuff.

I got a live call from a lady working for Wells 2 weeks ago. She called simply to “make sure we were doing ok”.

I said “Sure, why do you ask?”

She says (paraphrased, it’s been a week or so), “Well, a lot of people are struggling with their mortgages and stuff, so we’re calling all of our customers to check on them even if they aren’t late. If they’re having some problems and they haven’t told us yet, it gives us a chance to help them figure out a solution before things get worse for them.”

Out-frickin’-standing.

They may be a big lumbering megalith, but someone there really gets it. Yeah, I know. It’s a little self-serving on their part, but the positioning of the call is smart.

Making the call before it has to be made (even if it might never have to be made), that’s the brilliant part.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/PityTheFoolWhoDoesntCommunicate.mp3]

How to tell your clients you don’t want their business

Here’s a good example of how financial institutions send that message.

Now, I wouldn’t expect any of you to do something this obvious to run off *good customers*, but I thought I’d plant the seed just in case.

“Nothing can be done about it.” Phooey.

One of the readers of my newspaper column owns a bar/restaurant.

Recently she told me that one of her bartenders accidentally rang in a $6 charge twice on a debit charge card.

They found the mistake the next day and corrected it by reimbursing the $6 to the customer.

The customer called back and said she had a problem.

Her debit card bank, US Bank in Boise, charged her $160.50 because her debit card (due to the bartender’s error) went over by $2.00.

The owner called the bank there because he found it difficult to believe the customer’s claim of the amount she was charged. The bank verified the fee and said “nothing can be done about it”.

What the bank employee’s “nothing can be done about it” comment really means is likely one of two things:

Either a not-too-customer-centric “I don’t want to do anything about it.” or “My boss won’t let me do anything about it.”

Not wise, but not unusual depending on the management involved.

Of course, my friend the bar/restaurant owner reimbursed her for the $160.50 bank charge.

But she was curious, so she called her business bank here in Montana to discuss their procedures.

She was told that at $27 per overdraft charge, it can add up as far as the computer system shows. However, if the customer were to call (as the bar/restaurant customer did, and as the bar/restaurant owner did)) and explain the errors (restaurant wrongfully double charging, and only $2.00 over her limit) the bank would waive those fees.

I’ve had experiences with this same bank where checks were accidentally written on a closed account. Once the check amounts were paid, the fees were refunded.

In other words, they have a policy (a good thing), and they have some automation in place (usually a good thing) but they also have a human side as well.

A very good thing.

There’s nothing wrong with having strong policies in place. And there’s nothing wrong with using automation to help run your business (I’m the last one you’d find telling you not to automate), but you should always leave room for the personal touch.

There are some businesses that realize this and make a point of empowering their people to make a decision that is right for the company and the customer.

Yours should be one of those.